South Sudan Looting of Aid Reflects the New Nation’s Setbacks

Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times, January 31, 2014

The looters came by the thousands. They were organized, systematic and took their time.

At two World Food Program warehouses in this dusty South Sudanese town, they opened thousands of USAID cans of vegetable oil and poured the contents into stolen jerry cans. They ripped open packets of high-nutrition food and took the contents. They stole computers, light fittings, fans and roof tiles, and even cut away the canvas from storage tents.

The food they took—1,700 tons in all—would have fed more than 100,000 families for a month.

Left scattered in the dust Friday were family ration cards, the empty oil cans—marked “Not to be sold or exchanged”—and a measuring tape used to assess extreme malnutrition in young children.

The debris conveyed the despair over just how much has gone wrong in the world’s newest country and how quickly it all unraveled. Not only is South Sudan back to square one, but the humanitarian agencies that have pumped billions of dollars in aid into the region over the decades are back there with it.

More than 860,000 South Sudanese fled their homes when violence flared in December between forces loyal to the president and those backing his former vice president, splitting the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and unleashing what human rights observers have described as horrific ethnic killings.

Fighting has continued in Jonglei, Unity and Lakes states, despite a deal signed Jan. 23 to cease hostilities. {snip}

The conflict has left about 3.7 million people in need of basic food assistance, setting back the once-ambitious plans of aid agencies for the 2-year-old nation.

The World Food Program, the food aid arm of the United Nations, in November proposed moving the country from emergency assistance to longer-term projects, such as irrigation works, designed to improve food security, officials said.

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WFP officials said residents as well as government and rebel soldiers were involved in the looting. There were reports that two drivers for humanitarian agencies also took part.

“There were people with donkey carts loading it up and taking it away. There were women carrying it on their heads,” said a WFP official, who requested anonymity for security reasons. “It was everybody.”

Looting of WFP warehouses has been reported in other states as well. Overall, an estimated 4,300 tons of food has been stolen nationwide.

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South Sudan’s short history has been plagued by trouble, including the theft of $4 billion from government coffers—for which President Salva Kiir blames his enemies in the ruling party—and a bitter conflict over oil transit levies with Sudan, which led Kiir to shut down production for more than a year, even though his country depends on oil revenue for 98% of its budget.

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